My Heart Will Go On and On…

K: Three weeks in Beijing and we finally have time and internet—the two necessary components for blog posting! There is so much I want to write, but it would turn into a novel if I talked about everything thus far. Therefore, feel free to email me and ask questions to find out more! My first impressions of Beijing as a city are mixed. The tell-tale signs of overpopulation are everywhere: constant litter, dirty sights and smells, relentless traffic, over-packed buses and subways, etc. But there are also parts of the city that house miniature “central parks” and small, artsy side streets, demonstrating the ongoing theme of diversity in the capital. The food embodies this as well, as we have access to the various provincial foods, but also Tibetan, Mongolian, Korean, Taiwanese, and, when we need ‘an American fix,’ Mexican, American, and Italian. This place is so mind-boggling huge that we have yet to explore our own “Haidian” district, let alone much of Beijing. While generally dirty, Beijing boasts conservation programs (for my environmental studies friends out there,) offering recycling with every trash can and providing super-efficient public transportation for the entire area. Though there are leaks in the system, especially aesthetically, the Chinese have streamlined the city to accommodate so many people. I’m impressed by this every day.

The methodical approach to the city itself contradicts the nature of the Chinese people, at least those I have gotten to know here so far. They are some of the most emotionally direct people I have met, honest with their feelings and genuine in conversation. I had heard of the famous hospitality in China and it is no exaggeration. Each one of my students has invited me to their home, offering to be my guide, and shown interest in my well-being while I live here. They are endlessly curious, complementary, and welcoming, and I am struck by their focus on love, happiness, and relationships. I am learning so much from the Chinese, a community-based culture, and how they seem to contrast against the very individualistic United States. There are definite positives to both attitudes, but I think that a lot of Americans could learn from the Chinese and their commonly less selfish outlooks. On the other hand, it seems like the Chinese are already appropriating some things from America, especially in the media. They love Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Michael Jackson, and others, and every time we go shopping, we browse to American music. My class, Class A, is performing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” and acting out scenes from Titanic (a movie they have never seen,) for the Talent Show this weekend. They are obsessed and let me tell you, if you ever need a mood-booster, listening to 30 tone-deaf Asians serenade you with Celine is by far the quickest way to brighten your day. Haha.

I love teaching so far, even though it can be exhausting and frustrating. My class is a “low” one, meaning my students knew very little English coming in, and, in a “Total Immersion Program,” that can obviously be problematic. Despite their limited knowledge, however, they are enthusiastic and positive, and I can already see major improvements in their confidence and skills in English. Almost all are English teachers in their own provinces across the country, so while teaching them English we also try to pass on more right-brained, creative, and interactive methods of teaching the language. The Chinese educational system is exam-based so, typically, the teachers and students concentrate on grammar and syntax instead of actual practice in the classroom. It’s awesome to be given the opportunity to provide another option for schools across China through the teachers at this program. I actually feel like we are making a difference, not only in the lives of our students, but in the larger structure of education in the country. Wow, this blog post is turning out to be super long… I guess I will wrap it up and post more specific stories and stuff in the future. Long story short, I am loving Beijing so far and can’t wait to experience new locales and people soon! Working on uploading pics, we may have to trek to an internet café for better connectivity… More on the way!

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Settle Down, It’ll All Be Clear

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dfTURAhrTY

Welcome to our joint blog about our experiences in China! Although we plan to alternate posts, we decided it would be fun to do a joint post about what’s on our minds before we depart! Also, we’ve decided to title each post with lyrics to a song we find to be inspirational, and otherwise worth checking out. You can find it at the top of each of our posts. You’re welcome! ; )

J- Okay, I have to warn you that Kristen is undoubtedly going to be the more skillful writer for this blog. In fact, this is my first ever blogging experience. (I’m gonna need to stop here and admit that I did have a previous blog on Livejournal when I was in middle school, but what self-respecting seventh grader didn’t?) Without getting too mushy on the first post, I’m pretty excited and a little anxious. If this were Livejournal, I would classify my emotional state as “Quixotic” mixed with “Indescribable.” (Please tell me that I’m not the only one remembers that site.) I’m about to embark on the experience of a lifetime to a culture that is completely foreign. I’m pumped! Anyway, I officially have two full days in Blackshear before I leave for Atlanta. I know that I should be spending time packing…or at least considering what I’m going to bring with me, but I have successfully been avoiding it for at least three days now.  Kristen and I officially have our work visas in hand (after what seemed like an endless drive to DC and back). The only thing standing between us and Beijing is approximately 72 hours. Let the countdown begin!

K- I leave for Beijing, China in 3 days. 3 DAYS. That is crazy surreal. I can’t believe I am about to trek over to a place I have dreamed about visiting for years—one full of new cultures, languages, customs, and food (inevitably a little nervous about that particular category… haha)—and away from everything familiar for an entire year. I know in the long run, a year won’t seem to take up much in the way of a lifetime, but for now it does feel a bit daunting. And, hopefully, individual year aside, the experiences gained will remain significant and transformative against the tide of time. Meanwhile, packing for a year abroad is a lot more difficult than I was expecting. Mere days before departing the U.S, my room is a cluttered mess, segmented by piles of potential clothing and other traveling necessities. As the China to-do list continues to grow, I am once again reminded that procrastination really isn’t all that productive. I should’ve started earlier! Ah well. Either way, I will be on my way to the eastern hemisphere in a mere 72ish hours via Aircanada (Toronto to Beijing,) as I board my flight at 6:25 am (ahhhh-have to leave my house at 3 am 😦  ). I am anxious, excited, and very ready to start my year helping Chinese teachers improve their English! This will be a year full of challenging adjustments, exhilarating adventures, and cross-cultural relationships, and I could not ask for a more rewarding opportunity my first year out of college! Woo!